*Courtesy of EMS Bruel & Kjaer - Americas


MWAA Aircraft Noise Fact Sheet


Q1:  Does the airport monitor noise levels?

A:  Yes.  Noise monitors have been installed around Reagan National since 1978.  The Airports Authority currently owns, operates and maintains 34 noise monitors that are aligned with the primary flight corridors around Reagan National and Dulles International airports.  At Reagan National, a key FAA strategy for limiting aircraft noise exposure over the broader region is to maximize aircraft movements over water and minimize aircraft movements over more densely populated communities. The noise monitors record all aircraft and community noise contributions including aircraft overflights, vehicles, lawnmowers.  See: Noise Monitoring SystemDCA WebTrak.

Q2:  Why doesn't the airport use their noise monitors to determine if a pilot is violating the airport's nighttime noise rule?

A:   The DCA Nighttime Noise Rule is based on aircraft noise data generated during the FAA's Noise Certification process for each aircraft configuration:  aircraft  type, model, engine and weight.  The noise certification data is published in FAA Advisory Circular 36-3H which allows airlines/owners to pre-determine whether an aircraft complies with the DCA Nighttime Noise Rule.

Federal rules prohibit aircraft noise measurements obtained outside the FAA's noise certification process to be used to enforce the DCA Nighttime Noise Rule.  Specifically, real-time noise measurements obtained while aircraft arrive and depart Reagan National can not be used to enforce the policy.  See:  DCA Nighttime Noise Rule.

Q3:  Why does the airport have noise monitors if they are not used to fine airlines?

A:  The first noise monitors were installed around Reagan National in 1978. The primary objective of the noise monitoring system is to monitor historical trends experienced in neighboring communities as the result of aircraft and community noise contributions.  See: Noise Monitoring System, DCA Nighttime Noise Rule.

Q4:  Why doesn't the airport enforce the curfew and close at night?

A:  An operational curfew has never existed at Reagan National (DCA).  In 1981, specific nighttime noise limits established for Reagan National were imposed between 10 p.m. and 6:59 a.m. which became known as the DCA Nighttime Noise Rule.  The DCA Nighttime Noise Rule was established to define:

  • Methodology to identify aircraft that exceed specific nighttime noise limits established for Reagan National.
  • Guidelines for imposing a civil penalty on airlines/owners for operating louder (non-compliant) aircraft that exceed the nighttime noise limits.

From the late 1980s thru early 2000s, civil penalties for louder (non-compliant) aircraft and a low demand for early morning and late evening flights resulted in fewer aircraft operating at Reagan National during the nighttime hours.  Some local communities and organizations incorrectly interpreted the DCA Nighttime Noise Rule as a curfew on airport operations. 

Due to advancements in aviation technology, the majority of the aircraft currently operating at Reagan National between 10 p.m. and 6:59 a.m. comply with the DCA Nighttime Noise Rule.  However, the Airports Authority still audits, investigates and enforces the Nighttime Noise Rule to ensure aircraft are in compliance.  Non-compliant aircraft may be fined up to $5,000 per violation by the Airports Authority.  See: DCA Nighttime Noise Rule.

Q5:  What information is used to determine noise monitor locations? 

A:   The noise monitor locations are selected in consultation with member jurisdictions of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the airport's Noise Information Office.  Proposed locations need to be public land, easily accessible with access to power and communication utilities.

At Reagan National, a key FAA strategy for limiting aircraft noise exposure over the broader region is to maximize aircraft movements over water and minimize aircraft movements over more densely populated communities.  Since the FAA typically routes flights over the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, many of the noise monitor locations are positioned along the river corridors.  See: Noise Monitoring System.

Q6:  Who do I contact at the airport to talk about aircraft noise problems or submit a complaint?

A:  The Airports Authority's Noise Information Office is available to discuss noise concerns during normal business hours:  Monday - Friday.  8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Reagan National aircraft noise complaints may be submitted 24/7 via Mobile App, IAD Complaint Form or DCA WebTrak.  See: Complaint Webforms.

  • Contact Info:
    • Email:       [email protected]
    • Phone:      703-417-1204 
    • Address:    Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
                        1 Aviation Circle    
                        Noise Information Office, MA-15
                        Washington, DC  20001

Q7:  What determines the direction that aircraft arrive and depart the airport?

A:  As a safety factor, aircraft arrive and depart into the wind to maximize aerodynamic lift.  FAA Air Traffic Control determines the operational direction (North Flow or South Flow) based on wind direction, wind speed, cloud (ceiling) height, and airfield conditions such as available runways.   See: Aircraft Procedures.

Q8:  Who controls the planes in the sky?

A:  All aircraft movements are solely controlled through the FAA National Airspace System, including the design and implementation of flight procedures and corridors.  The Airports Authority does not control or regulate airline schedules or aircraft movements.

Q9:  Why do flights go over residential neighborhoods?  Isn't that prohibited?

A:  The only prohibited airspace in the Washington, DC region is designated as P-56.  Within P-56 airspace, commercial and private aircraft are prohibited. P-56 prohibited airspace consists of two sub-areas:

  • P-56A includes the U.S. National Mall and the White House, home of the U.S. President
  • P-56B includes the U.S. Naval Observatory, home of the U.S. Vice President. 

Due to the high volume of commercial, private and military flights in the National Capital Region, a key FAA strategy for limiting aircraft noise exposure over the broader region is to maximize aircraft movements over water and minimize aircraft movements over more densely populated communities. The FAA issues arrival and departure procedures, that comply with the region's prohibited airspace restrictions, to generally position aircraft over the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, when air traffic and weather conditions permit.  Some communites adjacent to the river corridors will still experience aircraft noise.  See: Aircraft Procedures.

Q10:  Do pilots, airlines or FAA Air Traffic Control need my permission to fly over my house?

A:  No.  Per United States Code 49 USC 40103:

  • The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.
  • A citizen of the United States has a public right of transit through the navigable airspace.

Q11:  What is the minimum altitude that an airplane can fly over someone's house?

A:  Per Code of Federal Regulations 14 CFR 91.119:

  • Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
  • Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

However, this requirement does not apply to arriving and departing aircraft.

Q12:  What is the minimum altitude that a helicopter can fly over someone's house?

A:  Per Code of Federal Regulations 14 CFR 91.119:

  • A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed for aircraft if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface, and complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA.

Q13:  Can the airport or the FAA order airlines to move flights to another airport?

A:  No.  Under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, airports, local, state and federal governments are prohibited from dictating to airlines the following operational criteria:  origin/destination airports, service routes, passenger fares, number and time of flight operations.

Q14:  I'm thinking of buying a house, how do I find out if it's near an airport flight corridor?
          Is the real estate agent required to disclose information about aircraft noise in the area?

A:  Always contact the Airports Authority's Noise Information Office prior to a home purchase when there are concerns regarding aircraft noise.  The Noise Information Office can discuss your concerns, provide graphics depicting aircraft flight tracks and altitudes relative to property locations, provide aircraft and community noise data, direct potential buyers to our Flight Track & Noise Public Portal DCA WebTrak, as well as provide other local and county resources.  See:  Aircraft Noise Information.

Only local goverments and communities can dictate whether aircraft noise disclosure statements are required as part of real estate transactions.

Q15:  What is the airport doing to decrease noise over residential areas?

A:  The Airports Authority has a long history of addressing aircraft noise concerns in the metropolitan Washington, DC region by working with residents, elected officials, the FAA, airlines and pilots to achieve the mutual goal of safe airport operations while limiting the number of residents exposed to aircraft overflights and associated noise.  At Reagan National, a key FAA strategy for limiting aircraft noise exposure over the broader region is to maximize aircraft movements over water and minimize aircraft movements over more densely populated communities.  See:  Community Outreach.

Q16:  How many runways are located at Reagan National?

A:  Reagan National has 3 runways.  Runways are numbered relative to their compass heading divided by 10, e.g. - Runway 19 points to the south at a compass heading of 190 degrees.  See: Airfield Diagram.

  • 01/19:  Primary runway, aligned north/south.
  • 04/22:  Secondary runway, aligned northeast/southwest.
  • 15/33:  Secondary runway, aligned northwest/southeast.

Q17:  Why do I have aircraft over my house on certain days but not others?

A:  See Q7 and Q14:  Some neighborhoods experience aircraft overflights based on weather patterns that affect the direction aircraft arrive and depart from the airport, i.e. - North Flow or South Flow.  See Aircraft Procedures, DCA WebTrak.

Q18:  Why do aircraft sound louder on certain days?

A:  Weather, terrain and buildings are key factors associated with noise propogation and can affect how much noise is heard at a specific location on the ground

  • Hot & Humid Weather: Diminishes aircraft performance and may reduce aircraft climb rates.  See Density Altitude.
  • Cloud Ceiling Height:  Low, dense clouds (thermal inversion) act as a reflective noise surface. 
  • Terrain & Buildings:  Natural and man-made structures may act as reflective surfaces that propogate noise energy.

Q19:  What can I do to mitigate aircraft noise inside my home?

A:  The Federal Interagency on Aircraft Noise (FICAN) is a helpful aircraft noise resource.  See:  FICAN Guidelines for Sound Insulation of Residences Exposed to Aircraft Operations, 2005.

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